Residents who live near the Madera Quarry in O'Neals were quick to notify the county planning department of what they felt were hazardous driving conditions on Road 209 due to gravel trucks entering and leaving the quarry in late January. After Bruce Gray, chairperson of the Bates Station Neighbors, filed a complaint with the county, the planning department issued a "Notice of Violation" to quarry management due to the number of trucks on the roadway. As of the first of this week, the gate to the property has been locked and the truck traffic has stopped.
"Numerous residents using Road 209 to go to work on Monday, Jan. 28, were forced off the road by gravel trucks coming and going from the quarry that were crossing the double-yellow line on blind curves," Gray said. "Thankfully there were no accidents and nobody was hurt."
The quarry is located near the intersection of Road 209 and Daulton Road (406). Gray's organization fought to stop the proposed quarry operation for eight years.
Gray said on Jan. 29 he counted 52 gravel trucks in a one hour period traveling the four miles on Road 209 between Highway 41 and the quarry entrance.
"I counted 28 trucks going in and 24 trucks coming out in a one hour period on Jan. 29," Gray said.
Gray said he took a count Jan. 30 over a two hour period that resulted in 36 trucks entering the quarry and 38 exiting the quarry for a total of 74 trips during a two hour period.
Matt Treber, head of Madera County Planning Department's code enforcement, said the county agreed to allow the owner of the quarry, Shimmick Construction of Oakland, to have minimal truck trips in and out of the quarry as long as the material was not being sold and the trips were due to "pre-construction" activity at the quarry site.
Treber became aware of the truck traffic from Gray who presented him with photos and a road count report on Jan. 29. In his letter to Johannes Hoevertsz, county road commissioner, Gray said the area residents understood that there would be no sales of material which meant no hauling until Road 209 was reconstructed.
Gray said the county has listed the hairpin turns and some curves as "dangerous portions" and in doing so, have opened the door to a lawsuit by the group if the trucking continues.
"They are using the 'no sales' portion of the county agreement because they are hauling 'un-saleable' material that must be removed from the hillside to get down to the good rock that is saleable," Gray said.
Gray, in his letter to the county, stated Road 209 is not capable of carrying the traffic of haul trucks due to the narrow road width and feels the trucks can not "maintain lane confinement in the dangerous portions of the road."
Based on that information and 61 photos that Gray presented, Treber issued the "Notice of Violation," because there appeared to be an unsafe number of truck trips in and out of the quarry.
"It was apparent to us that a potential safety hazard existed on Road 209 and that caused us to issue the "Notice of Violation" on Jan. 31," Treber said. "The notice was issued because too many trucks were traveling on Road 209 prior to the required reconstruction of Road 209 and the improvements to the intersection of Road 209 and Highway 41."
Paul Cocotis, president and CEO of Shimmick Construction, headquartered in Oakland, said there is no specific restriction on the number of trucks using Road 209 in the county agreement during pre-construction.
Although Cocotis said his company has a great working relationship with the county and the county has been supportive of the quarry, he feels the company was operating within the terms of the agreement with the county.
"We are only doing site development including building internal roads and the processing plant," Cocotis said. "We are not operating the quarry, we are not selling any processed material and we are allowed to truck material in and out during this process. There is nothing in the permit at all about the number of trucks going in and out during site development.
Cocotis, who joined the company shortly after its formation in 1990, said his company has sent a memo to the county stating his company has not violated any part of the agreement with the county.
"The county may withdraw the citation completely of if they don't agree with us, we have 20 days from the date of the citation to appeal," Cocotis said. "We are temporarily complying and have slowed down the trucking activity until we get this straightened out."
Last Friday, Treber said he had received the memo from Shimmick.
"We are currently reviewing their position about the number of trucks utilizing Road 209 at this time," Treber said. "We are hopeful the operator can commence reconstruction of Road 209 and the intersection improvements at Highway 41 and Road 209 in the near future."
"A promise was made to the residents of the area that no gravel trucks would be allowed on Road 209 until the reconstruction of identified 'dangerous portions' of Road 209 and the construction of intersection improvements at 209 and Highway 41 were complete," Gray said. "These improvements were also part of the mitigations the quarry agreed to with the county."
Gray was happy with the action the county took.
"Kudos to the planning department for their quick actions in which they notified quarry management and enacted code violations which stopped the trucks from rolling," Gray said.
It has been estimated that the reconstruction of Road 209 and the intersection improvements at Road 209 and Highway 41 will cost the developer $5-7 million. The intersection improvement includes a new mile-long southbound lane starting at Road 209 for trucks to safely merge onto 41.
The open pit rock quarry was approved by the Madera County Board of Supervisors in July 2011.
Shimmick will operate the Madera Quarry in partnership with Jack Baker, who originally had the project approved. The quarry and associated operations will use about 135 acres of the 1,000 acre parcel.
Cocotis said his company hopes to start reconstructing Road 209 this spring and the quarry should be in operation by early fall.
Original plans said a low of 300 and a high of 680 truck trips will be made in and out of the quarry when fully operational.
The original proposal came from Jack Baker, owner of Jackson Enterprises of Redding, who first appeared before the supervisors in 2003 with the quarry proposal. Baker still owns the land, but entered into a partnership with Shimmick to operate the quarry.
Shimmick is one of the largest engineering contractors on the west coast and Cocotis, in 1999, served as project manager for the $154 million Golden Gate Bridge Seismic Retrofit.
At the time Madera Quarry was approved, Baker estimated the quarry operation would use 55 acre feet, or 18 million gallons of water a year.
Operators plan to process and transport a maximum of 900,000 tons of aggregate material annually for up to 50 years.
Improvements to Road 209 were originally estimated to begin the fall or 2011 and the quarry was expected to begin operations in the spring of 2012.
An additional quarry is being planned in the area by Vulcan Materials. d Vulcan has a 356 acre site (Austin Quarry) on the south-west corner of Highways 41 and 145 and is proposing to process 2.5 million tons of material annually.
Granite Construction also had a proposal for a rock quarry (Hildreth Creek Quarry) on 323 acres west of Roads 208 and 209, but those planes are currently on hold.